Aug 04, 2010

Judge Rules Prop 8 is Unconstitutional

Judge Vaughn Walker issued his opinion today in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the federal challenge to Proposition 8, which in 2008 took away the right of same-sex couples to marry in California. Judge Walker's 136-page opinion holds that Prop 8 does not pass constitutional muster because it "unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation."  The court held that the right to marry applies to all persons regardless of gender, and that the right to same-sex marriage is not a new right, as defendants claimed, but the right to have their relationships recognized for what they are: marriages.

In addition, Judge Walker ruled that California's domestic partnership laws do not satisfy the state's obligation to allow citizens to marry. "Domestic partnerships exist solely to differentiate same-sex unions from marriages... California does not meet its due process obligation to allow plaintiffs to marry by offering them a substitute and inferior institution that denies marriage to same-sex couples."

The judge's ruling includes a permanent injunction against enforcement of Proposition 8, which in theory means that same-sex couples can marry again in California. But the Prop 8 supporters have already asked Judge Walker to issue a stay of the opinion and prevent any same-sex marriages from taking place while the case is on appeal to the Ninth Circuit, its next destination on its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. It's likely the stay will be granted and no marriages will actually take place; watch this blog and the website of the National Center for Lesbian Rights for updates.

The decision comes after Judge Walker heard two weeks of testimony in January, and closing arguments in June. The end result is not surprising, given that the Prop 8 supporters presented very little evidence to support their position--as Judge Walker noted, "the minimal evidentiary presentation made by [Prop 8 supporters] does not meet the heavy burden of production necessary to show that Proposition 8 is narrowly tailored to a compelling government interest."  On the other hand, the plaintiffs and their counsel, Ted Olsen and David Boies, put together a powerful case that included not just the emotional testimony of the plaintiffs themselves, but also the testimony of experts in sexual orientation, and child development, all of which went to prove that Prop 8 was a product of animus toward same-sex couples.

Despite the inevitability of the appeal, the LGBT community and justice-loving folks everywhere can enjoy Judge Walker's eloquent defense of our constitutional right to participate fully in society. Full equality is coming; it's just a matter of time.